In an earlier entry I mentioned ajwain biscuits and how I remember trying them long ago – I can’t even remember where – but that I couldn’t find them anywhere here. For well over a year now I have been keeping an eye out for them. If I went to a new grocery store that had similar cookies: nan khatai, or jeera (cumin) biscuits, let’s say, I would scour the shelves looking for ajwain biscuits. Even Ontario’s largest Asian grocery store, just down the street from me, with its large selection of snacks and cookies didn’t have any.
What is it about these biscuits that makes me keep an eye out for them? There are a couple of things. On the one hand, I have never really been a lover of sweets. As a kid on Thanksgiving day, as the rest of the family was having pumpkin or apple pie, I would have a second helping of peas, potatoes, and stuffing. Savoury things have always been my favourite. These biscuits are only a little sweet – enough to provide a nice contrast with coffee or tea but they are no peanut butter or chocolate chip cookie.
Ajwain is also a really interesting spice. I only discovered it a few years back. It’s a relative of cumin and caraway but the seeds are smaller and the flavour is different from those two. The taste is hard to describe but a bit of research on the web tells me that one of its main flavours comes from thymol – what gives thyme its flavour. But there are other aspects to the flavour that might make you think of oregano or even anise. Put them in a slightly sweet biscuit with a little salted butter and you get a really interesting flavour.
Over a year ago I remember mentioning my search on Facebook and a friend of mine said “Why don’t you just make some?” I responded “Maybe someday…” which really meant “Probably never – I haven’t baked in a few decades, why would I start now?” which is a silly way to think. But sometimes we have to hear things a few times so when Hunida suggested I make them and share the process here I determined I would do it.
Last night was as good a night as I could get for the project. I still had a lot of leftover Thai red curry tofu and vegetables I had made the previous night so dinner was taken care of. I could use my dinner preparation time for a bit of fun.
So off I went to the market to pick up a few missing things for the project and our pantry in general. The weather could not have been more perfect for me. The temperature was in the high 20’s – that’s in the low 80’s for my American friends, and the sun was shining. The trees here are all lush and green now and flower gardens are starting up as people worry less and less about the possibility of a sudden frost killing them off. There’s a particular smell to the city in summer also that just makes me happy.
Taking my Hindi teacher’s advice, I told Google Music to give me a mix of Hindi songs to practice my listening as I walked and shopped. My speaking, she says, is improving very well but my listening comprehension is coming along more slowly and I need more practice. I do notice it has improved a lot in just a few weeks. My vocabulary is still small but I notice that instead of just catching a word or two every song, I’m able to catch phrases. I still don’t follow the entire song but I’m getting more and more. And the words I don’t understand are often understood well enough that I can understand them enough to think “Oh wait, I know this one! What is it?” But they still don’t come to me as quickly as I’d like. For example a couple of nights ago I was trying to remember a word I had learned for “pot” or “utensil” that I had used before for a homework assignment to write a recipe. It just wouldn’t come to me – my brain kept giving me “Ubalna” – meaning “to boil” as if it was just as useful but it was not what I was looking for. A full day later, out of nowhere, the word “bartan” popped in to my head. Oh right. That’s the one. Where was it hiding?
Though I only needed about 8-10 things (and only two for the recipe), I spent about 40 minutes in the store. It’s always nice to have a few extra things in the fridge to work with. Finally I head out. Half way home I get to the one stop light I must wait for before I am almost home and then, just like “bartan” the day before, another thing pops in to my head: “You didn’t get butter.”
I stand there for a minute weighing the options. Maybe I should just skip it and try another day. After a little thought, though, I realize that there are few lazier things I could do. It is literally a 5 minute walk back to the store. I turn back, get the butter and head back home.
When I get home, Daegan is also excited to bake with me and so we work together. Some people work better together than others in the kitchen but Daegan and I work well together, each of us knowing what to do next, getting the job done without bumping in to the other. Of course we do. He’s been working in the kitchen with me since he was able to hold his head up on his own. I would put him in the baby sling when I cooked and so he would watch everything. When he got old enough to stand he’d stand on a chair and help. And now, after a couple of cooking classes, he’s teaching me things.
We found an excellent recipe online here. and followed the very simple instructions. First we gathered the ingredients together – there aren’t many. Flour, sugar, milk, butter, and of course ajwain seeds.
Together we measured and combined the dry ingredients and then added butter until everything was properly incorporated at which point we added the milk and mixed it until we got a nice firm dough.
This we covered and let rest for about 20 minutes. Then it was a relatively simple matter to roll them out. Daegan got straight to work on that while I figured out what we could use for a cookie cutter. Eventually I settled on a canning jar lid which was the perfect diameter. Daegan dove in and cut them, putting them in baking pans and getting them ready for the oven.
While they were in the oven, we quickly cleaned the kitchen. The recipe had been so simple that there was not a lot to clean and it was all back to normal before the cookies were finished And then, a bit over 10 minutes later, out of the oven they came, delicious, buttery and ready to eat. The whole family agreed that they were better than the cookies we buy from the stores. And really, given the effort required, even if they were available at the store it took less time to make them than it takes to do a full shopping trip.